GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - Russian teenager Alina Zagitova edged compatriot Evgenia Medvedeva with a stunning free skate on Friday that earned the Olympic Athletes from Russia a first gold at the Pyeongchang Games.
The 15-year-old, who led Medvedeva by just over one point after a record-setting short programme on Wednesday, effortlessly executed every element of her jump-packed free skate, earning 156.65 points for the performance and 239.57 overall.
Skating to Don Quixote by composer Leon Minkus in a flashy red tutu, Zagitova held on for her opening jump, a triple Lutz, and went on to land another six triple jumps.
Medvedeva, who trains with Zagitova under the same coaches, won silver with a spectacular skate that put her 1.31 points behind Zagitova overall.
The training partners embraced after the competition, exchanging congratulations.
“I’m very happy that I was able to win a medal for our team,” Zagitova told reporters. “I think this is only the beginning. Everything is still ahead.”
Skating last, Medvedeva was visibly disappointed after her second-place score was announced. But the 18-year-old said she had been satisfied with how she had skated.
“I wanted to end these Olympics without any regrets. I was able to do that,” Medvedeva said. “A great sports life awaits me. And like today, I will leave everything on the ice. I won’t think of the past.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent the skaters and their coach Eteri Tutberidze telegrams congratulating them on “brilliant results and very beautiful performances at the 2018 Games”, the Kremlin said in a statement.
The performances of Zagitova and Medvedeva in Pyeongchang reasserted the dominance of Russian women figure skaters on the international stage with third-placed Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond more than seven points behind Medvedeva on 231.02.
“The Russian girls are impressive,” said Osmond, who helped Canada win gold in the team event. “They’re consistent and do everything that the sport is asking for. That’s just something that everyone else has to try to keep up with.”
The Russian Olympic delegation in Pyeongchang last week said they were unhappy that Olympic gold had eluded Russian competitors in the first half of the Games, stressing it expected one of its female figure skaters to end the drought.
Russians in Pyeongchang are competing as neutrals, a penalty imposed over allegations that the nation had systematically manipulated anti-doping testing at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Some of Russia’s top athletes were not cleared to compete by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
With Friday’s figure skating medals, the OAR now have one gold, five silver and eight bronze medals and are 15th in the medals table with two days of competition remaining.
A few months ago, it seemed that Medvedeva would easily clinch Olympic gold as she repeatedly extended her winning streak.
But she suffered a foot fracture that sidelined her from the Grand Prix Final in December and gave Zagitova, competing in her first senior season, a chance to fill the void.
Zagitova last month spoiled Medvedeva’s injury comeback at the European championships in Moscow, handing her a first defeat since November 2015 and establishing herself as a Pyeongchang gold medal favourite.
In third after the short programme, Osmond stepped out of her opening triple Lutz but recovered to cleanly complete her free skate.
The 22-year-old Canadian said she has been trying to catch up with the Russian skaters.
“I’m trying to close the gap as little as I can,” Osmond said. “It takes just doing what we can, pushing as hard as we can.”
Italy’s Carolina Kostner, who was competing in her fourth and final Olympics and was sixth after the short programme, stepped out of her triple flip and put her hand down, finishing fifth overall.
The United States, long a figure skating powerhouse, did poorly, with its skaters in ninth through 11th place despite Team USA taking bronze in Pyeongchang. The country’s women last won a figure skating medal in 2006.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury and Ed Osmond